Based on Ian McEwan’s controversial novel of the same name, The Cement Garden directed by Andrew Birkin (brother of Jane Birkin of Je t’aime…moi non plus and mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is better known for his writing duties on the brilliant but bonkers Tom Tykwer “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”.
The film follows the awkward and feminine looking teenager Jack (Andrew Robertson) and his family living in a council-house surrounded by the ruins somewhere in England ( the same location where Stanley Kubrick filmed Full Mental Jacket now the location of Millennium Dome).
The character of Jack is very hard to like at first, he spends most of the time looking at himself and masturbating and roaming the ruins surrounding his family home. The complete opposite is his sister Julie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is sweet and compassionate compared to Jack who’s rebellious and narcissistic. There younger brother Tom, wants to be a girl and gets bullied at school for it (played by Birkin’s son Ned) and the quiet and rather internal younger sister Sue who also keeps a diary.
There Father is strict and eager to criticise his children for anything.
After a while the Father gets sick of trying to keep up with the garden and decides to cover it up with cement, he asks Jack to help him. After a while Jack leaves his Father alone after seen a glimpse of his sister’s Julie’s legs and decides to wanders off to the bathroom to masturbate to his own reflection in the mirror. The scene wonderfully ends with the death of the Father of a heart attack and lands with his face in the cement just as his son is about to cum.
It comes across at first that Jack seems not to be bothered by his father’s death and continues perving over Julie and following a erotic tickle fight Julie urinates on herself.
Their Mother (Sinead Cusack), soon after the death of their Father, falls sick and is unable to get out of bed. Jack been so lazy, Julie takes over caring for the Mother and her other siblings. More and more mind games start between Julie and Jack, on Jack’s birthday she begins to boss him around and starts on purpose to arouse and tease him with a handstand (revealing her knickers to him), the very aware Julie knows she has control over her young brother.
At first she appears to be the mature and motherly sibling but she ain’t as sweet as we first thought. Charlotte Gainsbourg, is amazing in her first adult role after a pretty successful and award winning career for her teenage roles in French films like the wonderful L’effrontee. Her Julie crosses lines between Femma fatale and a Tomboy (and she pulls of the English accent flawlessly). An Interesting fact, one of Gainsbourg great speeches is featured in the introduction to the 2000 Madonna song “What It Feels Like for a Girl”. Gainsbourg’s done some amazing work since this film but nothing as Iconic as this and this film shows her beauty of best then any other film.
After a while the mother passes away from a mysterious illness that’s never explained and we find that the 4 children are all alone. Known and afraid of been split up and put into orphanages so they decided to hide their mothers death and bury her under cement.
The film is really beautiful shot at times, the ruins where the family home is really makes for a amazing sight on screen. Grey skies and the images of hostile and dread really are a sight to behold, you can see why Birkin says Ingmar Bergman was a influence on this film.
Despite grief and alienation from the world, The kid’s are in a way liberated; youngest boy Tom starts openly wearing dresses and a wig, while Julie starts dating a 30 year old, much to the jealousy and dislike of her brother Jack.
Despite the bleak view the film has in a way the kids are liberated. The younger brother openly walks around dressed as a girlwith the help of his sisters. While Julie begins to date a guy called Derek who is older and who Jack takes a instant dislike too and is pretty jealous off. Derek soon starts to think something is a little off with the family.
Andrew Robertson is brilliant in a role that could of come off little dodgy in the wrong hands, Robertson does in the end make you care for Jack especially when Julie’s new beau Derek comes on the scene. Pity he’s been stop start in his acting career and he hasn’t come close to topping this role. Alice Coulthard as younger sister Sue is given less to do but is wonderful when she is on screen. Coulthard got a a few years on Emmerdale so she’s a working actress.
Ned Birkin brings the laughs to the film as young cross dressing Tom. The last ten minutes bring a lot of controversy and one of the reasons why it got slapped with a 18 certificate. I thought Birkin did that scene with a lot of good taste. Overall it’s got a cult following and a well deserved one, Gainsbourg has never looked as sexy and one of the reasons she’s so beloved today is thanks to this film and sadly Andrew Birkin quit directing after this film as he felt he could never top “The Cement Garden”, maybe he was right. 4.5/5